Friday, August 6, 2010

Your House Is My House

Little houses on the hillside, little houses made of ticky-tacky, little houses, little houses, little houses, all the same. Anybody beside me remember that song? Well, the gummint is going to take over the business of creating its own communities. The Senate Banking Committee has moved the Livable Communities Act out of committee and on to the full Senate.

The Democrats are not only going to build houses, but they are also going to build a nice, fat new bureaucracy to watch over them, nurture them, put non-creditworthy people in them, and enhance the government's thirst for telling people where and how to live. For starters, the bill institutes $4 billion in "neighborhood planning grants" (guaranteed by Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and Barney Frank?). Early lame duck committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Ct), who lives in low density, high-priced Connecticut has a wonderful plan for urban and populous suburban areas centering around high-density, "walkable" neighborhoods. I don't know about you, but the few government-created neighborhoods I've seen require running like hell if you value your life. Walking is not a real option.

Democrats don't like what they call urban sprawl and despise traffic congestion caused by people who dare to own their own transportation. So like their eleventy-eleven plans from the past, this plan will eliminate both sprawl and congestion. Why are you laughing? This time they really mean it, and they have very pretty plans. Here's what those plans will do:

Coordinate land use, housing, transportation, and infrastructure planning processes across jurisdictions and agencies. Conduct or update housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy, and environmental assessments to determine regional needs and promote sustainable development. Implement local zoning and other code changes necessary to implement a comprehensive regional plan and promote sustainable development. Good bye private planning. Good bye local government planning. Good bye regional government planning. Uncle Sam knows what's best for you, so drink your Kool Aid. These grants are called "Comprehensive Planning Grants." They're kissing cousins to comprehensive health care reform and comprehensive immigration reform. God forbid anything shouldn't be comprehensive in our bureaucratic, technocratic country.

But wait. There's more. There's a second type of grant being funded in this bill called "Sustainability Challenge Grants." Well, at least they admit that planning anything from the central government in DC for people nationwide is a challenge. This grant sounds a lot like the other grant, but with more bureaucratic incomprehensible jargon. These grants will do the following: Promote integrated transportation, housing, energy, and economic development activities carried out across policy and governmental jurisdictions. Promote sustainable and location-efficient development. Implement projects identified in a comprehensive regional plan (which of course won't be planned by the regional authority because DC will have preemptive authority).

When I was a planning commissioner back in the bad old days, residents within our city were vocal and intelligent, and often gave us input that helped us formulate better plans. Those who were outside the city limits, but within our legal sphere of influence did the same, with the addition of convincing us that some parts of the area should basically just be allowed to evolve by themselves without any central planning. We would not have gotten that input, nor would we local/regional commissioners have any say in projects in the same geographical areas which would now be planned from 3,000 miles away by jargon-slinging bureaucrats who will tell the unfortunate future residents "it looked good on paper."

There is nothing that small, local government can do that huge centralized government can't do much worse and far more expensively. They picture urban heaven. I picture Cabrini Green. In addition, when we made a mistake, we had to fix it because we would have a lot of angry locals banging on our doors if we didn't. Where do those locals go to complain to the DC bureaucrats? We had a moderate-sized permanent paid staff to formulate plans for presentation to us and the public. The commissioners received a very modest stipend for each formal meeting attended. The federal planners are all career bureaucrats, paid very high salaries, and are responsible only to their bosses in DC, but never to the locals who will have the plans jammed down their throats.

The bill creates the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities ("OSHC") inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). The initial funding, as I mentioned, is "only" $4 billion. But HUD and more importantly the tax-sucking bureaucrats populating OSHC have one goal in mind--self-perpetuation with fat salaries, huge perks, and immense retirement funds. They can't fail, since their stated goal is sustainable development and anything can be sustained if you throw enough good money after bad. Consider the $4 billion as a small down payment.

Notice that all the usual elements of statist central planning are in the bill. Urban development. Public transportation. High-density housing next to high-density commercial. The promoters of the plan promise that this will clean up cities, make them more energy-efficient, and create paradise-like living conditions. Apparently, none of them have seen the South Side of Chicago, or Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco. I'm sure Bev from New York City can supply us with a few good examples there as well.

The planners also talk about efficiency. Where have we heard that before? The bureaucrats can't even get national security to work efficiently, and our lives depend on that. Dodd actually believes that this is really something good for local communities and will increase citizen participation in neighborhood improvement. "It's not a radical idea. What's radical is not doing anything about it." He also thinks that a program funded by the federal government (via overburdened taxpayers) will actually work with local and regional planners to produce different plans tailored to fit the communities which accept the federal funds. Individual taxpayers are not the only ones who quake in their boots when they hear the words "We're from the government, and we're here to help you." "Federal cooperation" invariably means "federal control" in the real world.

"But no, says Dodd, "the OSHC would not be making planning decisions for city and county governments--the office would function as a resource for localities seeking to do the planning themselves." If you believe that, I have this big orange bridge in San Francisco I'll sell you. He goes on to say "That's kind of the resource capacity for the communities. It's not standards. We're not going to apply standards (we all know Democrats have no standards). We're going to stay far away from that. We're not going to sit here and set development standards because you've got to let the flexibility--rural communities,suburban, large urban areas--they need to decide themselveswhat they want do do in terms ofhow they link together housing, transit, and energy needs in their communities."

My first question is "who is this 'we?'" Dodd will be doddering off to his estate in Connecticut at the end of this Congressional term. Or is he planning on becoming the first overpaid chairman of the OSHC? My second question is "since the bureaucrats already have a grand scheme for how the communities ought to be developed and specific requirements (standards?) for where the money is supposed to go, why are we expected to believe that any local or regional authority that doesn't like those plans will be able to change them and still receive the federal largess?" I'm not even from Missouri, but I still say they'll have to show me. I particularly can't wait to see one of those high-density walkable neighborhoods in the middle of farmland in Kansas. That should be a real sight to see.

22 comments:

Joel Farnham said...

This sounds like the Versaille in France. You know? The Building. A strange archetectural anomoly is found there. It has NO BATHROOMS.

I fully expect that these guys all have the SIM's game and are playing it. What they don't understand is that a lot of the game is assumed. Plumbing for example. Electricity for another. Water for a third. In this game, water just happens. No need to plan for it.

I expect these guys will forget sewage and where to get the electricity and water and all sorts of fiddly details.

Oh, and who would want to live in such a community? People who don't have any where else to live? Is this for those homeless who get kicked off of Dodd's country estate? Will Michelle and Barack give up their home in their gated urb to live there?

Joel Farnham said...

PS. I can't seem to get the picture. It says it doesn't exist.

And interesting article LawHawk.

StanH said...

Always a good read Lawhawk! A simple word describes the plan, “doomed!”

Here in Atlanta, several years ago there was a building development on an industrial site. This was particularly ugly in a beautiful, very modern city. When the developers purchased the property, that at the time was argued to be the most expensive piece of property in the USA. It came with the caveat with the city, a portion of the development must include low cost housing for the underprivileged. So they build this beautiful development, three hundred thousand to million dollar condos, neat row homes, mall, movie theaters, public spaces, really cool! It sold out before they broke ground. Then once people started moving into their beautiful expensive new dwellings, so comes the “underprivileged.” This beautiful new development became a predators (underprivileged) hunting grounds. After a few murders, multiple robberies and muggings, the city had to reverse it’s policy, of the “underprivileged predators” to stop the exodus and save the development from certain ruin. Just an anecdote, but a good example of government social engineering.

JB1000 said...

This is simply a brilliant adaptation of the gated community. Gated Community 1.0 creates a safe place inside the walls to protect those that can afford it. Gated Community 2.0 creates a crappy place, inside the wall. Once 95% of the population gets stuffed inside the walls, the 5% elite can enjoy the other 95% of the planet in peace.

Wait... What?... What do you mean I am not in the 5%?! In that case, this is a horrible plan!

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: If you build it, they will come. Government projects always draw people. They just rarely draw people who will care about their property, or maintain it, and now they don't even want to pay for it. Dodd insists this won't become "public housing," but I've heard that a dozen times before.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Oops. There was some kind of glitch at Blogger. The picture was there, then disappeared. It should be back up now.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: You may remember that I discussed a private redevelopment plan in San Francisco's Bay View District which would have cleaned up one of the worst slums on the West Coast, provided genuine low-cost housing to the residents, and most important of all for the locals, provided private funds at low or no interest to those surrounding homes which will stay in place but are in need of major repair (including deadly mold removal). The local activists have continued to stymie the plan because it's a "white man's project in a black neighborhood." Guess which area of San Francisco is now on-target to become part of the government "Livable Communities" scheme.

LawHawkRFD said...

JB1000: Are you suggesting that government planning doesn't serve everyone, rich and poor alike, in a manner that would do Jesus proud? LOL

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--I know these neighborhoods tend to look alike, but isn't that Levittown, PA?

LawHawkRFD said...

HamiltonsGhost: It is, indeed. I chose it for a reason. For decades, the left pointed to Levittown as the model for boring planning, mediocrity in construction, and the cloying sameness of urban/suburban neighborhoods. Of course, what they really didn't like was that it was a private business creation that helped alleviate some of the differences between the rich and the working class. Since the time that Levittown was created as the first major housing complex that developed free-standing, individually-owned houses that ordinary citizens could afford, the government has created projects that make Levittown look like a model of creativity and sanity.

Funny story about the song "Little Houses." It first hit the airwaves while I was a student at Cal Berkeley. I had a job near the airport that meant I had to drive past Daly City en route to work. Every time I would look up from the freeway toward the Daly City hills at the developments, I would instantly start singing "Little Houses." What I didn't know for another twenty years was that the songwriter who wrote and recorded the song was a Cal grad, and the view I was describing was precisely the same view that inspired her to write the song.

Tam said...

little houses is also the theme song for the show "Weeds" about a suburban california soccer mom who sells "weeds" in her neighborhood and progressively gets in more and more depth until she is literally in bed with the Mexican mafia. Hmm.

BevfromNYC said...

Obviously NYC is the exception to the rule. Our "projects "are havens of...er...from crime. Really..
This along with "rumor" that Obama may force Fanny Mae to forgive loans in forclosure in an August surprise. Scary.

AndrewPrice said...

New homes are the American dream!

LawHawkRFD said...

Tam: Thanks for the info. I didn't know that about Weeds. I saw the subject matter, and the cast list, and opted never to watch the show. So I'm missing out on one of my favorite old songs.

The last time I tried to watch a TV show with a pseudo-intellectual pot-smoking heroine, it was Jack and Bobby. The series was blessedly short-lived, but it did kick-start the career of Bradley Cooper, currently my favorite bad boy movie actor.

rlaWTX said...

and we are all OWED the American Dream, Andrew ...

< pshaw >

When I read stuff like this, my first thought in reaction is "Do they actually BELIEVE all this twaddle?" Or is it just another power grab...

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: I was pretty sure that your experience with government planning was similar to mine in San Francisco and Los Angeles, only yours would be writ much larger.

As if our financial world is sufficiently impacted by uncertainty in the market, Obama is going to make it even more uncertain by holding out the possibility of foreclosure forgiveness. Swell. The right to contract has traditionally included the responsibility to comply with the terms of the contract. Now, it's "you must do what the contract requires, except when . . . . "

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: The lefties have managed to turn that dream into a nightmare. The dream used to include, "work hard, pay your bills, make your mortgage payments, and don't buy a house without putting at least 20% down on a fixed-rate mortgage that you can afford to pay for now, not with some money you might or might not get in the future." When home ownership went from being the great American dream to becoming the great American scam, a major building block of American success was removed from the foundation.

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: The one goes with the other. They actually believe in their bureaucratic utopia, and one of the benefits of that utopia is the power it gives to the bureaucrats.

CalFederalist said...

LawHawk. In my experience,if you built two identical housing tracts, one private with traditional mortgages and the other government run with government loan incentives, in ten years, the former would be improved by the residents, landscaped, well-maintained and relatively safe. The latter will be run-down, dirty, decaying, and dangerous.

LawHawkRFD said...

CalFed: I think that's well-nigh universal nationwide. If you have no stake in ownership, or the government has made it dirt-cheap to get in (particularly if you're a member of a favored group), you are not nearly as likely to feel that your home is an extension of yourself.

I grew up in a home in a tract in a suburb just 13 miles southeast of Los Angeles City Hall. When the house was built in 1929, it was one of two floor plans available for the entire tract. Every fifth lot was left for someone to build his own home, within the rules of the tract's conditions, covenants and restrictions. My mother was the original owner, and kept it until 1970.

By the time I was born and my parents moved back to the town from Chicago, the homes were all taking on an individual look unique to each owner. You had to look twice to be sure these were even tract homes. By the time I graduated from college, each of the homes looked like it was custom-built.

Less than four miles away, in a different suburb, the government had done an early "low cost housing experiment" using almost identical plans to the homes in my old neighborhood, designed to house the "poor" and partially subsidized by the government (and this was long before the worst of the proliferation of government housing projects). Those homes were built in 1951. By 1961, they had become gang territory, the houses were wrecks, and the neighborhood was a shooting gallery. Those homes have all been torn down and replaced by private development. My old neighborhood continues to thrive without any "help" from the government.

StanH said...

When you hear a story like that, about your old home in LA, and the difference of real ownership, and the pride that comes with that, verses nare-do-well’s, or wards of the state. It’s a sad tale repeated across this country for decades, that fits nicely into the definition of insanity if you asked me.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: I can't decide if it's insanity or merely willful blindness. But like all liberal programs that fail, they believe the problem is not that their theory is wrong, just that we didn't work hard enough or spend enough money on the idea to make it work.

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